Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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In a recent Georgia car accident, and appellate decision was reached after the passengers in a car going southbound on I-75 were injured when an unknown driver swerved into their lane. The driver of the passenger’s car slammed on the brakes. A driver behind that car was allegedly following too closely and rear-ended the passengers’ car. The unknown driver ran away from the scene.

The passengers sued the rear-driving car and also sued the unknown driver, using a “Doe” designation under the Georgia uninsured motorist statute. Under OCGA § 33-7-11 (b) (2), a motor vehicle is deemed uninsured where an owner or operator of the motor vehicle isn’t known. The defendant sued under OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) (1) of that statute, which states that a John Doe defendant’s home will be presumed to be the county where an injury-producing accident happens or the plaintiff’s home county.

The rear-driver moved to transfer the venue to the venue where he lived, but this motion was denied. On appeal, he asked the appellate court to consider whether the venue provision of the uninsured motorist law applied in a lawsuit related to a car crash brought against a known Georgia resident and a defendant who is unknown under the theory of joint tortfeasor liability.

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In Georgia vehicle accident cases, determining liability can often be very complicated. First there are questions of driver negligence, driving under the influence or falling asleep at the wheel. Next there are product liability questions – did a car part fail or did some key mechanism not do what it was supposed to? Third, there are environmental factors. Perhaps roads were not properly marked or signs weren’t obvious, making it more likely that an accident would occur. All of these types of issues can create complicated questions of liability and require plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against many different parties. This is illustrated by a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looking at the liability of the Georgia Department of Transportation versus independent road contractors.

In Stopanio v. Leon Fence, LLC, A.S. brought claims against the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and independent construction contractors who performed work at the site of an accident. At the time of the accident, A.S. was driving to Florida with her parents. Her parents were in a car immediately in front of hers when a vehicle driving in the opposite direction drifted across the center lane and struck her parent’s SUV. This caused the airbags to deploy. The car swerved left, hit a guardrail and then bounced into a concrete pileway. The SUV exploded into fire and A.S.’s parents were killed instantly. A.S. was also injured when trying to respond to the accident. A.S. brought claims against both defendants as personal representative of her parent’s estate: a wrongful death and personal injury claim.

The independent contractors who had done road construction on the area where the accident occurred filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that GDOT had accepted their construction work prior to the accident and taken over control of the area. Accordingly, they were no longer liable for any injury that might result from the condition of the road. The lower court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss. A.S. appealed.

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In many Georgia litigation cases, actually filing a complaint in court is the option of last resort. Particularly in accident cases where the liability of one party is clear, both parties can typically avoid the time and expense of court time if they can agree to a settlement before a complaint is ever filed. These types of pre-filing resolutions are increasingly popular as parties look to minimize risk and keep costs low. When engaging in settlement, however, the parties must be careful to keep tabs on pending offers and upcoming deadlines or risk losing the opportunity to settle prior to litigation.

This is illustrated in a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals. In that case, Y.C. was driving her vehicle in Georgia when she was injured in an accident where M.S. hit her car. After the two parties exchanged information, Y.C. hired an attorney and the attorney sent a demand letter to M.S. for the amount of M.S.’s policy limits, $25,000. The demand letter indicated that M.S. had 30 days to provide payment or the offer would be withdrawn. Over the next few weeks, the parties exchanged emails about the details of a possible settlement, including inquiries into whether any liens existed and how payment would be made. M.S.’s counsel explained that he was “facilitating settlement of the matter.” However, the 30 days passed without actual payment of the demand.

Several weeks later, M.S.’s attorney tendered the payment of the $25,000 check, but Y.C.’s counsel explained that they were rejecting the check because M.S. had delayed beyond the deadline imposed in the demand letter. Y.C. then filed a lawsuit against M.S. for negligence. M.S. filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement between the parties, but the court denied it, finding that under the terms of the demand letter, M.S. had not accepted Y.C.’s offer. The case continued to trial and the jury awarded Y.C. $700,000. M.S. appealed.

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Jury instructions are an often overlooked but incredibly important part of the trial process. The instruction that a jury receives helps them understand and evaluate the case, and make a determination about the ultimate issues. Jury instructions can be crafted in a certain way to help tell a party’s story in the jury room, or to include (or omit) certain key details. For all of these reasons, when courts improperly include or exclude certain jury instructions, this is an issue that is often ripe for appeal.

In this Georgia car accident case, A.A. and L.M. were driving in different directions down a two-lane road. As they approached each other, A.A.’s vehicle drifted across the center line and ran into L.M.’s vehicle, causing significant injuries. L.M. sued A.A. for negligence and negligence per se.  L.M. established that A.A. had violated Georgia state statutes when his vehicle crossed the center line, which constituted negligence per se.  The burden then shifted to A.A. to provide a defense for his actions.

A.A. presented evidence at trial that his steering column was defective and that his auto mechanic had installed the defective steering column a few days earlier. A.A. testified he had no knowledge of the defect until he lost control of his ability to steer on the day of the accident and ran into L.M.’s car. A.A. then asked for a jury instruction, explaining that in order for A.A. to be held liable for the damages incurred as a result of this defective condition, he had to have knowledge of the defective condition.  The trial court explained to A.A.’s counsel that he could certainly make this argument to the jury, but the jury instruction would not be included because it was more than what was necessary. The jury ultimately awarded L.M. $30 million in damages. A.A. appealed.

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Many times in an auto accident case, a defendant will have only a limited amount of automobile insurance, or perhaps no insurance at all. When this happens, plaintiffs can try to recover against their own insurance company under an uninsured motorist claim. While uninsured motorist claims are usually used when third-party defendants don’t have insurance, some plaintiffs have tried to creatively plead them to apply to their own vehicles or vehicles they drive. A recent case illustrates this attempted approach.

In this Georgia truck accident case, J.H. was injured as a result of an accident involving a truck he drove for work. J.H. worked for M.R., doing business as Rose Logging. J.H. drove a large logging truck for M.R. for work. He could return the truck to work at the end of his shift or drive it home. At the time the accident occurred, J.H. was driving the truck from a logging site to a wood yard when two of his tires blew out. J.H. pulled over to the side of the road to replace the tires. M.R. arrived to assist him in putting a replacement tire on that could be used to drive the truck to a repair site to have both tires replaced.

M.R. began inflating the replacement tire and then turned it over to J.H. to finish. While the tire was inflating, it blew off the wheel and struck J.H., causing him serious injuries.  J.H. made a claim against Rose Logging’s insurer and received $100,000, the limit of that policy. However, J.H.’s injuries exceeded $100,000, so J.H. then brought a claim under his own insurance policy against his insurance provider for an uninsured motorist claim. J.H.’s insurer moved for summary judgment, and the court granted the summary judgment motion, finding that J.H.’s truck was not an uninsured vehicle under Georgia’s statutes. J.H. appealed.

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Governmental immunity can be a confusing concept under Georgia law. As illustrated in past cases on this blog, some government officers and agencies can be found immune from litigation, while others may fall in special exceptions that prevent them from being held liable in a lawsuit. A recent Georgia car accident case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks at how Georgia’s governmental immunity doctrines apply to county sheriffs in the state.

In this case, S.D. was driving in Calhoun, Georgia when he attempted to make a left turn at a local intersection. S.D. waited for all oncoming traffic before beginning his turn, but, as he turned, a local sheriff, R.M., attempted to pass S.D. on his left hand side. S.D.’s vehicle ran into R.M., and R.M.’s vehicle collided with S.D.’s driver’s side door. Because of the accident, S.D. continued to suffer from lingering back, neck, and leg pain. Importantly, at the time of the accident, R.M. was driving a county-owned sheriff’s vehicle on his way to business at the sheriff’s office evidence room.

S.D. immediately sued R.M. and Gordon County for the injuries he experienced. He alleged that R.M. had negligently driven his vehicle and that Gordon County was vicariously liable for R.M.’s actions. S.D.’s claims against the County were dismissed due to a failure to provide them with adequate notice, and R.M. moved for summary judgment on the claims against him, arguing that he had governmental immunity because he was in the course of his employment when the accident occurred. The trial court ultimately agreed that R.M. was entitled to governmental immunity and dismissed the claims against him. S.D. appealed.

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Sometimes in personal injury and car accident cases, individuals who have not actually caused the accident themselves can also be held liable for the injuries that result. This is often known as vicarious liability. Examples of vicarious liability include employers that are held liable for the actions of their employees, or principals who are held liable for their agents. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks closely at whether vicarious liability can occur when the employee or agent is not held liable themselves.

In this Georgia auto accident case, T.A. was injured after she was involved in a car accident with C.L. and D.B. At the time, C.L. was allowing his grandson to drive his car as practice shortly after receiving his driver’s license. D.B. collided with T.A. while he was driving. T.A. suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident.

T.A. sued D.B. for her injuries and also sued C.L. as the family member who allowed D.B. to drive, under the doctrine of family purpose. Under the family purpose principle, family members who own a car and allow others to drive it can be held responsible when those individuals cause an accident. The doctrine arose as a result of the fact that when those who were injured sued younger drivers, or the elderly, for their injuries, the defendants frequently had no assets and were virtually judgment proof. In order to give plaintiffs a better chance of recovery, the family purpose doctrine was expanded to allow plaintiffs a better chance of recovery.

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Car chases happen relatively infrequently during police activity, despite the fact that they are often sensationalized on the TV and in movies. In reality, car chases are difficult and dangerous affairs, with the potential for injuries to the driver fleeing the police, the police themselves, and innocent bystanders. When police do not follow proper procedures during car chases, they can also find themselves liable for any third-party injuries that may result, as illustrated in a recent case.

In this Georgia car accident case, S.N. and W.N. were seriously injured after a driver fleeing the police in a car chase ran into their vehicle while illegally crossing an intersection. At the time of the accident, the driver was being chased by Monroe County police. S.N. and W.N. brought claims against the Monroe County police for their injuries, alleging that the reckless conduct of the officers proximately caused their injuries. Monroe County moved for summary judgment after discovery, and the lower court agreed, finding that S.N. and W.N. had failed to show any evidence that the Monroe County police acted with reckless disregard for their policies and procedures. S.N. and W.N. appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the evidence presented in the case clearly raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether Monroe County acted recklessly. Specifically, on the night in question, Lamar County police attempted to pull over a driver after he was observed straddling two lanes. When the driver refused to pull over but instead accelerated, the Lamar County police began to chase him. As the driver crossed county lines, Monroe County police joined in the chase. At that time, Lamar County alerted Monroe County that the driver was being pursued only for failing to comply with a traffic stop and did not have an outstanding warrant or any other significant issues. As the chase continued, the police commented on their dash cameras and on audio recordings about the heavy traffic on the roads where they were pursuing the driver and the driver’s extremely erratic behavior and driving tactics, including weaving through lanes, crossing medians, and driving in emergency lanes. They expressed their concerns about the dangerousness of the situation but continued to pursue the driver.

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While many accidents are caused by negligent or reckless drivers who fail to take adequate precautions on the road, this is not the only reason that accidents occur. Foreign objects, obstructions, dangerous weather, and other unanticipated conditions can also cause automobile accidents. While many of these may be chance mistakes, occasionally defects in road conditions or signage arise that could have been properly addressed and prevented had the proper parties had notice of these defects. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considers whether a city had just such a defect in its roads, and whether it had sufficient knowledge of the defect such that it should have previously addressed it.

In this Georgia car accident case, J.B. was driving in the city when his car hit an area of broken pavement over a manhole. According to J.B., the hole in the pavement was so large that it caused his vehicle to veer out of control and into oncoming traffic. J.B. struck a vehicle headed in the other direction head-on, causing severe injuries. J.B. sued the City of Macon for his injuries and damages resulting from the collision, alleging that the City should have known about the damaged road around the manhole and should have addressed it, and that their negligent failure to do so caused his injuries. The City responded by filing a motion for summary judgment, arguing that J.B. had failed to provide actual evidence that the City had notice of the damaged road and could have repaired it prior to his accident. In response to this motion, J.B. produced pictures of the damage, taken two weeks after his accident, and argued that the damage to the road was such that the City should have had constructive notice of it. The trial court agreed and denied the motion. The City appealed.

On appeal, the City argued that the photographs produced by J.B. were not sufficient evidence of constructive notice because they did not provide any indication as to how long the road had been damaged. Under Tennessee law, the City has constructive knowledge of damage or a defect when the defect has existed for a long enough period of time that notice of the defect can be inferred. Evidence of constructive knowledge must be such that a jury could reasonably believe that the defect had been around long enough that the City should have had notice of it.

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Public officers such as firemen, police men, and emergency responders must frequently put themselves in a position of possible danger to do their job. While protecting the public, they may encounter dangerous conditions that they must address, and they may be injured in doing so. Under Georgia law, these public officers cannot sue other individuals for injuries they incur while dealing with obviously dangerous or negligent situations. For instance, a fireman cannot sue a homeowner if he is injured due to the homeowner’s negligence while fighting a fire. These are risks that are part of the job. Sometimes this situation arises in an Atlanta car accident case as well.

A recent case illustrates this point. T.K. was a police officer with the Baker County Sheriff’s office. He was called out to deal with a wreck that had occurred on the road. Earlier that day, an employee of Watson Used Cars (“Watson”) was mowing the lawn when he accidentally blew grass clippings out onto the road. Later, it started to rain, and while R.L. was driving down the wet road and over the clippings, his vehicle spun out of control and landed in a ditch. He called 911, and T.K. responded.

T.K. and another officer quickly drove to the scene. As they were approaching, they began to slow down. T.K. did not notice the clippings as he came up to the scene of the accident, and when he began to brake, his own vehicle slipped on the grass clippings and spun out of control, striking a tree. T.K. was severely injured and placed on disability leave. T.K. sued Watson for negligence, alleging that the grass clippings that were negligently blown onto the road caused his injuries.

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